Best Shots Reviews: NEW 52: FUTURES END #38, ROCKET RACCOON #7, BATMAN & ROBIN #38, More

Earth 2: World's End #16
Earth 2: World's End #16
Credit: DC Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Keeping out of the cold? Best Shots is braving the storm with your regular Monday column, featuring seven reviews from your favorite comic book critics. So let's kick off today's column with Resplendent Richard Gray, as he takes a look at the latest issue of The New 52: Futures End...

New 52: Futures End #38
New 52: Futures End #38
Credit: DC Comics

The New 52: Futures End #38
Written by Brian Azzarello, Jeff Lemire, Dan Jurgens, Keith Giffen and Hi-Fi
Art by Andy MacDonald
Lettering by Dezi Sienty
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Despite a shaky debut 38 weeks ago, The New 52: Futures End has consistently proven to be one of the more interesting spins on the current universe since it began in 2011. Building on some of the same strengths as Injustice: Gods Among Us, in that it doesn’t feel burdened by a reverential view of canon and legacy, it has truly managed to maintain a sense of the unexpected. Case in point is the opening of this week’s issue, and the continued appearance of a character that will surely be an essential (albeit disturbing) piece of cosplay in the coming year.

The character is question hails from 35 years in the future, a bastard hybrid of Batman and the Joker, robotized and heavily armed. Arriving three decades in the past, it marks the first historic meeting between that era’s Bruce Wayne, Terry McGinnis and the Batman of five years from now. The convergence of eras is a significant turning point in the series, and one that begins the final countdown for the last 10 issues of the series. Concurrent stories include the defense of Metropolis by the de facto Superman and the new Firestorm; Grifter, Fifty Sue and Lana wandering the desert with a repository of all metahuman metadata; and Frankenstein being taken home for an unexpected confrontation.

The skill of this series to date has been balancing the seemingly disparate threads of these different events, a task all the more impressive given the plurality of writers on the series. Each handles their characters in a distinctive way, but they all still feel as though they are part of the same universe. It will be interesting to see what happens when the elements begin to come together as one. On the flip side, there is a certain sense of this being overly episodic at times, the weekly format affording both the luxury of character exploration, but the tendency to have soap opera finales more than once an issue. Even so, The New 52: Futures End has so much momentum at the moment, it would be impossible to see it stopping and starting in any other way.

Any MacDonald’s art achieves the unenviable task of bringing a cohesive look to the series this week. He’s clearly having more fun with the multiple-Batman/Joker fight that opens the issue, as opposed to the Grifter/Fifty Sue/Lana sequence that amounts to three characters sitting in front of a mostly black background for four pages. Yet as the setting changes up again for the final Frankenstein sequence, MacDonald proves that his strength is versatility, one that is essential in a book with a rapid pace.

The events of this book become even more salient as we approach the next major DC event of Convergence in April, with the perpetual hints that all of this may be heading towards a ‘Crisis’ by any other name. It still remains unclear exactly how this possible future will play into the current continuity, or what role these events will have pre and post event, but DC has made it clear that this is core reading to fully understand the direction the line is taking. It’s a good thing that it remains compelling every week.

Rocket Racoon #7
Rocket Racoon #7
Credit: Marvel Comics

Rocket Raccoon #7
Written by Skottie Young
Art by Filipe Andrade and Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Lettering by Jeff Eckleberry
Published by Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating 7 out of 10

This comic should really be called “The Adventures of Rocket and Groot,” as that’s pretty much what Skottie Young is giving us with Issue #7 of Rocket Raccoon. The story is a bit more akin to what fans saw in the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, as it’s about Rocket trying to save his friend while stranded on an ice planet and surrounded by giant, venomous, horned dogs.

A typical day in the life of a genetically-engineered Raccoon, really.

But the usual Rocket humor is not as present this issue and Young gives the comic a more serious tone. Of the many things director James Gunn did well in Guardians of the Galaxy, injecting palpable heart into the main characters made the story more relatable, especially given the expanded universe it had to sell to viewers, and Rocket and Groot’s relationship was particularly memorable. Young borrows from that as he puts Groot in a desperate situation and forces Rocket to make a pretty dangerous journey in order to help his friend.

The added cast members are merely used to move the plot forward to provide Rocket with the MacGuffin he needs to save Groot. Young strays into well-tread waters with Jink, the daughter of a king who wants to shed her royal baggage and be free. Regardless of her unoriginal backstory, Young makes her a pretty dangerous warrior and hopefully her role in the comic is to be more than a stereotype of a princess who wants nothing to do with her royal status.

So while the story borrows some known tropes, Filipe Andrade’s illustrations are wholly original. The action sequences aren’t as clear as they could be, particularly when Rocket and Groot are attacked - Andrade’s choice of shots sometimes makes the flow jumpy from panel to panel. But his character designs are engaging. The sharp yet lithe nature of the movements works well with Jink and her race. Rocket’s emotions – from his ferocity to his undying love for Groot – are sold with some great facial features and his trademark attitude is definitely present.

Jean-Francois Beaulieu’s colors are muted, but cinematic. His art occasionally takes on the look of a painting and at other times is akin to Rafael Albuquerque’s gritty pencil work, but both styles make the comic visually appealing, and the set pieces desolate and hopeless, matching Rocket’s predicament perfectly.

Rocket Raccoon #7 is really an issue that sets up the rest of the arc, but it focuses on the relationship between Rocket and Groot, and because of that it carries an emotional weight that gives an urgency to the story. Readers can safely assume Rocket will find a way to save Groot, but the journey itself will be what most defines the arc and given the way Skottie Young conveys the deep love between these two friends, the ride will be anything but ordinary.

Batman & Robin #38 preview
Batman & Robin #38 preview
Credit: DC Comics / AV Club

Batman and Robin #38
Written by Peter Tomasi
Art by Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray, and John Kalisz
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Any complaints people could have had about Damian Wayne - that he was only an entitled, angry, and thoughtless brat - quickly evaporate with Batman and Robin #38. Peter Tomasi gives a modicum of closure to Damian’s past and gives us one of the best examples at how Damian Wayne has a great capacity to be incredibly feeling and empathetic, despite what people might assume.

Admittedly, not much happens in this issue and it’s really an interlude at its core. Despite not giving us any hints on what’s going to happen next in the overarching plot, Batman and Robin #38 gives Damian and Bruce a chance to breathe with their new situation. Tomasi effortlessly injects humor and seriousness as they continue their regular routine as usual and artists Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray, and John Kalisz render it beautifully. There’s a lot of dark and grotesque imagery in this issue. Since many of the more dark and grotesque images happen in darkness, it’s a credit to both Gleason and Gray that they can keep everything distinct and clear on the page with everything that goes on. This isn’t a surprise, considering the entire team has been so synergistically on point since the very first issue and remains one of the strongest teams in the entire DC lineup. It was more than exhilarating to see Damian fly throughout the issue and we’ll hopefully be treated to more visualizations of Damian’s powers in the next few issues.

As said before, one of the major successes of this issue is showing how Damian is more than just what he appears to be on the surface. Tomasi takes steps to ensure that anyone coming away from the issue will have no doubts that Damian’s a three-dimensional, flawed, rounded character. We’re shown such a wide range of emotions from him: to confidence, to fear, to insecurity, and deep, deep compassion. Tomasi brings back some of the plot points from before Damian’s death, including his failed clone brothers. It’s cathartic and utterly heart-wrenching to watch Damian’s journey throughout the issue as he attempts to find peace with coming back to life. It’s also clear that Damian’s struggling as well and it’ll be nice for Tomasi to explore that struggle with his heritage once again with this added element. If there’s one thing that Tomasi and Gleason have mastered, it’s their ability to use imagery in such a meaningful way that you have to make sure you look at each page thoroughly instead of glancing at it. That’s why seeing the fireflies still feels great after all this time – it signals something meaningful is happening and those cues are invaluable.

The one drawback of this issue is how self-contained it feels. You would think Damian’s first question would be to ask where “Grayson” was, considering Damian died to protect him or that there would be a scene where Damian’s just catching up on current events and reacting to them. Hopefully as the series continues, we’ll see more of Damian’s interaction the rest of the DC Universe and the Bat-family. It’s unclear where the next few issues will take us, especially with Convergence on the way. Tomasi has set himself up in the best possible manner: with most everything in the past now dealt with, he and the creative team can now proceed into the next stories and focus solely on how this new status quo will impact Gotham and their relationship.

Credit: Image Comics

Reyn #1
Written by Kel Symons
Art by Nate Stockman and Paul Little
Lettering by Pat Brosseau
Published by Image Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Wardens, rifts, mages, and monsters - is this all sounding familiar to you? Reyn has all of these things, but as of yet there are no dragons. Writer Kel Symons takes on a journey as Warden Reyn and Seph, a mage and healer, meet after two millennia of Wardens being absent from this medieval world. Strange creatures, farmers, townsfolk, strange lizard overloads, and their guardsmen populate this fascinating world.

Symons creates all the best elements for telling a grand sword and shield fantasy story: a long lost Order of formidable warriors returning from the fringes of obscurity, magic and sorcery afoot, and implications of higher powers influencing events all coalesce into making us believe this is going to be a story to watch. It’s a little confusing, however, that Symons started the story where he did. Although Seph is the narrator of the story, we start with Reyn and his encounter with a monster, and it isn’t until about halfway through we’re introduced to Seph. It’s hard to tell whose story it really is - whether Reyn is about Seph growing into her own by becoming an apprentice under Warden Reyn, or if it’s Reyn’s story to bring back the Wardens. It wasn’t until Seph and Reyn met in the town that things started to really pick up, which is unfortunate because the entirety of the first half of the book is only Reyn showing off his formidable combat skills without really getting to know him as a character.

That first half of the book is really where Reyn suffers. Of the first nine or so pages, we don’t learn anything about Reyn at all, the farmer family serves no purpose to the story, and the farmer’s daughter is reduced to being a one-dimensional character whose sole purpose is to tempt Reyn with staying at the farm. While this is problematic in and of itself, it was even more so when artist Nate Stockman just made the farmer’s daughter’s figure totally exaggerated and absolutely unrealistic. While some might find no fault in it, to draw women’s breasts to accentuate her sexual appeal and have it not further the story or add to the character in any way is a disservice to the rest of the story.

However, Stockman and colorist Paul Little do a fantastic job at rendering the backgrounds and world of Reyn. They really don’t shy away from creating wide and expansive landscapes that help us better contextualize the setting around, which is great because they don’t have to spend many pages establishing what a village or a farm might look like. At points, the character designs and face proportions got a little too clunky and inconsistent, but the breakdowns and overall quality of the characters outshone any imperfections, especially as the story started picking up. Besides the farmer’s daughter, every other character is drawn as you’d expect and fits into the story Symon’s trying to tell.

At this point, while the story is interesting and has enough momentum to push it forward, there’s not too much invested in these characters or the story, partly because we don’t even being to understand what’s at stake. There are apparently lizard rulers that were responsible for banishing the Wardens, but beyond that there’s not much information to go off of. When we don’t fully understand what the consequences of a character’s actions are, we can’t be expected to become as fully invested in them as we should be. Reyn might be formidable and interesting, but that only gets us so far when we don’t know anything about what he’s facing or his motivations behind his actions. The same goes for Seph.

Regardless of its faults, Reyn #1 is a solid start to a new series that looks like it can be a great source of story for the sword and shield fanatics. The comparison to Dragon Age is only in the names Symon chooses to use for the organizations and characters, but that doesn’t stop it from taking on the essence we all know and love from medieval fantasy stories. Hopefully in the issues to come, we’ll learn more about Reyn and Seph’s motivations as they navigate this unsettling world.

Earth 2: World's End #16
Earth 2: World's End #16
Credit: DC Comics

Earth 2: World’s End #16
Written by Daniel H. Wilson, Marguerite Bennett and Mike Johnson
Art by Tyler Kirkman, Eduardo Pansica, Paul Neary, Robson Rocha, Guillermo Ortega and Andrew Dalhouse
Lettering by Sal Cipriano
Published by Vertigo
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Earth 2 has been one of the strongest debuts since the start of the New 52, and the work respective writers James Robinson and Tom Taylor have done so far in world-building has been an exemplar to the rest of the Multiverse. Which is why the choice of a weekly series covering almost the same events as the main series was a baffling one. Indeed, the last few months have diminished both runs, with Earth 2 now largely reading as a set of “origin stories” for the narrative of Earth 2: World’s End. This week’s entry is a terrific example of the dangers of stretching an already thin concept over too much surface area.

This issue mostly concentrates on the release of the Red Avatar, who in a probable shock twist is Yolanda Montez, better known as Wildcat to those still dealing in the old currency. Corrupted by the evil New God Desaad, as almost everyone seems to have been at some stage in this title, she now appears as a monstrous demon fighting on Darkseid’s team. Indeed, much of this issue sees the various factions either fighting Parademons or talking about it, something that can already be seen in the main title that this series spun off from.

If ever a series could be said to be treading water, it’s this one. There’s clearly a pre-determined end point to the series, one that will undoubtedly be marked by a major shift in the continuity for the entire DCU. Yet for an issue that has a lot of moving parts that seem to be perpetually in motion, it’s hard to say if the status quo is much different by the end of this issue than it was at the start. There are undoubtedly some major events here: Kara adopts the S-shield to become a fully-fledged Supergirl and cover her “boob window” for good. Yet this moment is undercut by some baffling editorial disregard to internally established continuity, and the hitherto unseen ability of Kara de-powering a converted Huntress with nothing more than a crash tackle. It undercuts what is meant to be an emotional finale, as many readers will still be scratching their heads from the pages that preceded it.

The plethora of artists on this series has led to some inconsistencies across the last few months, and a quick glance at the almost half-dozen pencilers this week may clue you in as to why. Different artists covering the different corners of the globe isn’t that unusual or unwelcome, but there is certainly a jarring transition between the beautiful sequences on the Eurasian Steppes featuring the super family, and the handful of pages in Amazonia featuring Jimmy Olsen playing with a boom tube.

For a book called Earth 2: World’s End, it seems to be going to an awful lot of effort to be keeping a mediocre event alive long past the self-imposed expiry date. These final weeks will see the title limp along to its inevitable conclusion, where if prognostications of doom are right, then any progress that this series does make will be all for naught anyway.

Guardians of the Galaxy #23
Guardians of the Galaxy #23
Credit: Marvel Comics

Guardians of the Galaxy #23
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Valerio Schiti and Jason Keith
Letters by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

They say you can’t go home again, but if you are are a sentient, symbiotic pile of black tar that may not be altogether true. Guardians of the Galaxy #23 marks the end of the "Planet of the Symbiotes" arc, and while it may lack the bone crunching action of the previous issues, the issue still manages to deliver a few choice witticisms amid the exposition. Up until this issue, the symbiotes and their origins were shrouded in mystery and misdirection. Writer Brian Michael Bendis spent a lot of time getting to this point, and while the final issue of this arc amounts to basically an info dump set on the alien’s homeworld, Bendis and his art team still manages to make it a flighty and fun entry into the Guardians canon with big implications for the Guardians’ newest member, Flash Thompson aka Venom.

#23 opens with a cold open between Thompson and the Valkyrie, picking up the flirty threads between the two that were introduced in Secret Avengers. The sexual tension of this dream sequence is quickly dispatched, however, as Flash’s monstrous Venom-infused id rears its ugly head. Bendis keeps all of these scenes moving quickly, as Flash wakes to find the symbiote bonding to Drax, making him look like a Japanese demon. The newly Venom’ed Drax has flown them to their final destination, the titular Planet of the Symbiotes, which looks exactly as H.R. Giger inspired as you would expect. Artist Valerio Schiti and colorist Jason Keith have been two of Guardians of the Galaxy’s strong points for more than a few issues now, and here, with the ultra alien landscapes and ever shifting alien lifeforms, they continue that strong streak.

While the artwork shines, Bendis also manages to wring some much needed tension from the scenes of the Guardians’ descent onto the planet’s surface. As the rest of the Guardians start to come to, they, naturally, look toward Flash with a newly suspicious eye. The Guardians bickering with each other isn’t anything new for the title, but Bendis’ injects a bit of urgency into these dialogue exchanges. Flash Thompson has always been somewhat of a wild card for the Marvel Universe due to his relationship with the Venom suit and after the Guardians experience that first-hand, they naturally have to weigh their options. Drax threatens to punch through Flash’s face with a single blow while Gamora wishes to hear him out, even though last issue she wanted to throw him out of an airlock. “I’m complicated,” she replies flatly, making her all the more badass. Guardians of the Galaxy #23 isn’t without its problems, but Bendis has displayed a firm grasp on the voices of the team, as well as their ever-rotating cast of guest stars. Bendis has also showed a willingness to throw the Guardians headlong into the unexplored corners of the Marvel Universe, with varying results.

While that willingness to take the Guardians into spaces that we have never seen before is usually a good thing, Guardians of the Galaxy #23 suffers slightly for it. After the Guardians make their decent onto the homeworld and make contact with the amorphous denizens of the symbiote planet, the issue starts to feel more like an extended explanation for a costume redesign and less like a propulsive single story. The final pages of the issue, though fantastically rendered by Schiti and saturated with deep, bold colors by Keith, are little more than straight exposition toward the true origins of the symbiotes as well as their noble intentions to build a “true warrior.” The page layouts of these pages are truly a sight to behold, as Schiti uses the sorted history of the alien’s exploits on Earth, as well as its own tendrils to layout three solid pages of montage, leading up to Flash’s new debut as an agent of the cosmos with a new Destroyer-esque Venom suit.

Schiti’s montage pages are filled to bursting with amazing and harrowing visuals illustrating the feral nature of the symbiote’s contacts with humanity and Keith’s rich color scheme of deep purples, neon blues, and inky blacks tie it all together. But an info dump is an info dump, no matter how important it is going forward. Guardians of the Galaxy #23 is charming, tense and contains at least a dozen amazingly funny facial expressions from Schiti, but unfortunately, falls into the perpetual second act trap that comics so often do. This issue functions more like an extended prologue for the next arc and less like a conclusion to the current arc. The Guardians can never seem to have their cake and eat it too, so it might be too much to expect for the audience to get to with this finale issue.

Guardians of the Galaxy #23 isn’t a terrible comic. In fact, their are flashes of greatness throughout the issue; for example, the work of Valerio Schiti and Jason Keith and the firm grasp that Bendis has on the personalities of everyone’s favorite a-holes. Those aside, a finale should feel like a finale, and Guardians of the #23 doesn’t feel like one at all. It feels more like a stop gap issue, leading into another crossover with the X-Men. While some may argue that that is just the way comic narrative’s are structured or that comic finales will never truly feel like a definite ending because they are constantly ongoing, the fact remains that the effort should at least be made. Guardians of the Galaxy #23 makes a real effort, both in its scripting and its artwork, but not toward its own act break, where it should really count.

Green Lantern: New Guardians #38
Green Lantern: New Guardians #38
Credit: DC Comics

Green Lantern: New Guardians #38
Written by Justin Jordan
Art by Diogenes Neves, Ronan Cliquet, Marc Deering, Will Quintana and Andrew Dalhouse
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating 5 out of 10

Leading up to its new event Convergence, DC Comics announced the cancellation of 13 titles back in December, including New Guardians. So with only three issues left, Justin Jordan begins the countdown to the end by trying to wrap up some of the loose ends currently adrift in Kyle’s life while still trying to keep the reader engaged with new mysteries and exciting action. But all of these pieces don’t stir together so well.

New Guardians #38 is basically a three-act play. The comic starts strong with the appearance of a strange beast on a strange world, but when Jordan slows down the story for Kyle and Carol’s heart-to-heart, the comic loses its momentum. Jordan’s dialogue makes following the conversation difficult. Kyle and Carol’s diction is akin to that of a teenager in a young adult romance novel. It’s vague, restrained, and overly dramatic -- not something you’d expect from two characters with such a rich, shared history.

Jordan raises some interesting points about Carol and the Star Sapphires, particularly their area of the color spectrum and the connection to love. But if, according to Carol, she needs to love Kyle because she needs to love someone to power her battery, then this negates everything that has occurred between these characters.

The final act of the book is the most interesting, and the return of a surprise villain is very appropriate given this being the final issues of New Guardians. It doesn’t rescue or restore the pacing from the beginning, but it at least offers readers a neat cliffhanger.

The change in artists also makes the visuals inconsistent. Both Diogenes Neves and Ronan Cliquet provide pencils but their contrasting styles become apparent during the middle of the book. Character faces and bodies are not symmetrical and sometimes characters look completely different from panel to panel.

New Guardians #38 is a decent beginning of an end. Jordan seems like he’s trying to give the comic a proper send off and bring the book back to its emotional core, but he has a lot of emotional ground to cover while still trying to provide a solid story with great action. The result is a mixed bag, a comic that succeeds in some places and not in others. There’s promise in this final arc, and hopefully Jordan can deliver a satisfying conclusion.

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